FIFA 16 Is A Game Of Marvellous Imperfections

According to the wise folks of digital football, there’s a new king in town. Or rather, an old king who has returned to reclaim his crown. Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 has been receiving rave reviews and with FIFA head honcho Sep Blatter once again making headlines for all the wrong reasons, there’s no better time for a changing of the guard.

I’ll get to Pro Evo soon. Early impressions of FIFA 16 [official site] suggest Konami’s kick ’em up might have to fight hard for my affection.

When a football player uses his or her first touch to trap a long, high cross-field pass, it’s not uncommon for an entire stadium packed with people to let out a gasp of astonishment. Commentators remark on the feat, not in their role as hype men for whatever league they’re paid to narrate, but because it is actually a remarkable thing.

Football games often make the extraordinary seem routine. Balls stick to players’ feet, passes have an uncanny ability to hit their target – moments that should be breathtaking happen so often that you either engage in some autoerotic asphyxiation as your team of impossibly talented gents stroke the ball around the pitch, or you shrug and decide never to be impressed by anything ever again.

Like most sports, football is made up of long periods of control punctuated by mistakes and marvels. FIFA 16, incredibly for a game so slick and concerned with the pomp and circumstance of its licenses, understands that the imperfect moments are as much the heart of the game as the last minute winners and thumping overhead kicks. By trusting in believable ball physics rather than canned animations, and focusing on the timing of tackles and passes, EA have made a game in which a hard-fought 0-0 draw (on a cold blustery Tuesday night in Stoke) can contain almost as much drama and demand as much concentration as a 5-0 cup final victory.

I’ve been playing two career mode games, one as a player at Bury and another as Bury’s manager. This immediately marks me out as an outlier in the FIFA world. Ultimate Team – with online and offline play, unlockable card packs and custom squads – is the main draw, as the menu makes clear, describing it as “FIFA’s #1 Mode”. While I can see the appeal of building a team from the ground-up, I find Ultimate Team structurally chaotic and prefer the more comprehensible progression through traditional seasons. I want to play football, not a collectible card game based around football.

Pro Evo’s Master League mode is appealing, a singleplayer career mode with a neat approach to squad-building and player development, but I won my first three matches 7-0, 7-1 and 8-0 when I played earlier this week, which was somewhat off-putting. Granted, I was playing as Manchester United, who may well be ludicrously overpowered given that they have a strong squad that is also one of the few licensed for the game, but I want a team of real players AND a challenge so my options are limited.

FIFA’s wide range of licenses lets me play with actual teams even in the lower leagues (four English tiers are supported, as opposed to Pro Evo’s two) and I’m thoroughly enjoying the beginnings of my journey to the top with Bury. Once I’ve had time to play more Pro Evo I intend to look at the similarities and differences in greater detail but right now I just want to express how pleasantly surprised I’ve been by this year’s FIFA.

It feels like a football game for me, at least in those career modes. Playing as an individual – the old Be A Pro mode – is the area I’ve always felt needs more work. Conceptually, it’s brilliant; half sport game, half RPG. In practice, it’s never quite excelled either on or off the pitch. The NBA 2K series remains the high watermark for that kind of hybrid play, and upcoming 2K16 looks like it’ll be do even more work in that quarter, but this is FIFA’s best solo offering for a good while.

Partly that’s because it plays my kind of football. First touches are often heavy, passes go astray and it takes a great deal of care to shepherd the ball up the field. Long balls over the top are possible, as are lung-bursting runs that leave the defense in a heap, but FIFA 16 loves a good passing triangle. That can lead to some weird repetitive one-twos between players standing side by side, missing the person willing to become the third point of their nascent triangle by making a run up-field, but when everything comes together there’s a tension that I feel whenever I watch football but rarely feel in sports games.

My career player is a wingback with responsibilities in defense and attack. Trying to monitor potential routes for opponent through balls, not only marking but anticipating, is nerve-wracking. My Bury minnows just lost in a League Cup game against Newcastle and I spent most of the first half pinned back, trying to stop runs down the right. Not fast enough to keep up with the Newcastle winger, I stayed deep, trying to predict his runs and cut them off before they began. By the start of the second half, 2-0 down, the manager shifted me to a forward position on the left and I managed to help the team pull a goal back by persistently cutting inside and dragging defenders out of position.

Patience is required, playing as an individual. The AI is effective, spotting runs and trying to slip away from markers. And, yes, there are times when an entire match seems to be spent recycling possession like a (slightly) exaggerated parody of Louis Van Gaal’s Manchester United but then there are those moments when I send a through ball slicing through the defense and it almost trickles off the toes of a team-mate; he stumbles, momentum nearly carrying him head over heels, but manages to get a shot away from what seems like an impossible angle.

The slow build-up and the potential for a mistake at any point in the process means that those moments of fluid football feel special. They feel earned. And while the rigidity of the systems that work for the AI will no doubt become obvious and increasingly tedious over time, FIFA manages to make a last ditch tackle feel like an accomplishment rather than an inevitable result of good positioning and stat values. It rewards and reacts to pressure high up the pitch, which can force backpasses and errors, and has excellent positional awareness.

What has surprised me more than anything is that this FIFA feels like an honest and accomplished attempt to simulate football, right out of the box. The pace-driven back and forth is gone and in its place, there is a game about teamwork, support and adherence to a given role. Those broad changes are the result of a thousand smaller tweaks and additions, but it all starts with the willingness to embrace mistakes and imperfections. Of course, even as I write this I’m half-expecting everything I like about the game to be patched out in an effort to please the pace-hungry masses who refuse to play as anyone who doesn’t have a multimillion dollar underwear sponsorship.

The presentation is the icing on the cake. I love that news from the wider world intrudes on my matches – transfers and score updates from around the league filling dead air when the commentary team have nothing to say about the lack of action in front of them – and I love that players comment on their successes and woes. It’s not Football Manager, and that’ll probably displace it from my daily routine rather rapidly when it arrives, but there is a sense of important things happening elsewhere.

jet fuel can't melt steel beams

But it’s the action on the pitch that has me hooked. Controlling a ball and making a killer pass – these things aren’t easy. They’re remarkable and FIFA recognises that. The goal that comes at the end of the move is often the easiest part, if the build-up is particularly well-worked and utilises the whole team. Football is about more than strikers and highlight reels, and now FIFA is too and all the better for it.

Fifa 16 is available now.

27 Comments

  1. FreeTom says:

    The word from console-land is that PES has the edge over FIFA this year.

    But! Is PC Pro Evo as much fun as console Pro Evo for those not overly bothered about graphics? Hmm? HMMMMM?!

    • Baines says:

      The word from PC-land is that while the gameplay is good, the quality of PC port itself is drawing a lot of ire.

      • Baines says:

        Speaking about PES, that is. Not FIFA.

      • FreeTom says:

        Ah! Do you have it? I have the demo and a couple of times the screen has just gone black for like five seconds. Not happened again since I updated my video driver but that was only yesterday…

    • Ztox says:

      Those humble console peasants talk utter tripe! lol

      In all seriousness, while I’ve only played it on PC, PES does seem a solid game this year. The best one IMO since I stopped playing it back in 08/09 when FIFA actually started becoming the more realistic game (never saw it coming, but it happened).

      Me and a friend played a few games of the demo and enjoyed it so he picked it up as it was only £20. One thing became obvious after a few more games though, PES is definitely the arcade game and FIFA is the ‘sim’. PES plays very nicely though and is great fun so I guess it depends what you want from a football game ultimately.

      Apparently the gameplay on PC is pretty much the same as the “next-gen” consoles, so apply one of the graphic patches and you nearly there. But as someone who prefers my virtual recreations of real things to be as realistic as possible, FIFA is the clear winner for me still and I honestly can’t ever see that changing at the moment.

      With regards to the PC port of PES, I haven’t seen any issues with it yet, I think the main gripe is that the most powerful platform got mugged off with an inferior version of the game. Understandable, if you ask me.

      • Unsheep says:

        How is the PC the superior platform when most triple-a ports are seen [by elitists and media] as unplayable at worst and mediocre at best ? It is not a rational conclusion to make, since clearly you are not getting a superior experience on the basis of the ports being bad.

        The average PC gamer plays on a PC that is on par with consoles when you look at actual performance. If they want to play the latest triple-a games they are forced to turn the settings down until the visual quality is not superior at all to consoles. I’m one of those people, so I know.

        Those who have high-end PC rigs are in the minority yet have fooled so many into thinking they are not. To use an analogy, they have fooled Ford Fiesta owners into thinking they are driving a Ferrari.

        Know that all my gaming centers around GOG: classic games and indie games. I just happen to be allergic to what I see as irrationality.

        • A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

          Bad ports are an issue, sure, but they’re thankfully few and far between, well advertised by gaming media and eventually patched/modded to a good level.

          And the whole average PC player only being able to play indie games misses the point that for less than it costs to buy a console you can build a gaming PC far in advance of the PS4 or Xbone. Google it, lots of sites can show you how.

          Will be interesting to see what console devs can squeeze out of sharedate memory and cloud computing, but for now there is no contest.

        • Apocalypse says:

          I happily drive my custom ariel atom for the price of 3 fiesta. Ferrari? Don´t care for them.

    • Zirgs says:

      Is there a big difference between PS4 and PC versions during normal gameplay?
      It’s not like you can see finer details of players’ socks or ball anyway cause normally the camera is really far away.

  2. cqdemal says:

    I haven’t played PES in years – basically since EA decided to make the PC version of FIFA a match for the mainline console editions. I’m really loving how FIFA 16 handles passing and approach play, but the AI needs more work than ever to make the singleplayer modes shine. Right now, it is already quite entertaining to play against, but every team plays a passing game! The differences in formation and players of course provide enough variety, but seeing poor or mediocre sides putting together strings of 10-20 passes on a regular basis is not fun – especially in the case that the AI is struggling to find a good attacking outlet to use against you since it will just pass around in its own half until the cows come home.

  3. Premium User Badge

    Serrit says:

    jet fuel can’t melt steel beams

    (final image alt text)
    Eh?

  4. Ztox says:

    Out of interest, does anyone play the pro clubs mode on this? I’ve lost my regular team-mate of 4 years to a new girlfriend and I’m looking for some like-minded people to play in a team with.

    I play with ‘fully manual’ controls and never spam pass to call for the ball when the AI has it. People that do that are who I prefer to avoid playing with and are the reason the drop-in matches usually suck.

  5. oingy_boingy says:

    As the one person who sits in the ‘Reads RPS’ and ‘Is a Rochdale Fan’ Venn Diagram, I’m not sure how to take Adam’s footy related articles!

    In all seriousness though it is great to see coverage of a footy game that isn’t just The Joke.

  6. Arthur ASCII says:

    Every year I buy FIFA and PES as I like them both a lot but it would be soooo much nicer if we could finally have just one truly great football game with the strengths of both rolled into one. That’s what I dream for each year, and every year my dream never comes true. Bottom line is it’s the same as usual: PES still has the better foot-to-ball gameplay and physics – more like a sim game – FIFA gameplay remains arcadey as ever. FIFA as usual has the better “shell”, better presentation and commentary. PES still has better in-game cameras (especially the tv broadcast camera) also you can’t take a dive, divegrass style in FIFA while you can in PES. If I had to chose one over the other it would have to be PES for the better gameplay and laboriously mod in the unlicensed stuff. I’m sure that if EA didn’t exist, we’d already have had the perfect football game years ago but as usual EA holds back the competition with their exclusive sports licenses. At least, FIFA is still basically a good sports videogame… just don’t even get me started how EA totally destroyed NFL (American Football) videogaming with their shockingly bad Madden series. I suppose the NFL is just as much to blame for allowing it to happen and ultimately it’s the fault of the horrible dumbed-down masses for buying it, enabling EA to continue.

    • Unsheep says:

      Also, FIFA and PES are heavily split-up geographically when it comes to leagues, so if you want to experience soccer gaming as a true world sport you are more or less forced to buy both PES and FIFA. At least that has been my own experience with these games.

      I definitely agree, PES has better physics and mechanics but FIFA has better presentation and overall immersion.

  7. freedomispopular says:

    Isn’t competition great? Now we just need Madden to get some competition and put them both on PC.

    • Unsheep says:

      Exclusive licensing rights has really hampered the development and evolution of sports games in general.

  8. thekelvingreen says:

    Yes yes, but is it as good as Sensible Soccer European Champions ’92?

    • Ztox says:

      Although I preferred SWOS, never. Just like no golf game will ever touch Sensible Golf.

      I miss Sensible Software :(

  9. Zankman says:

    The impressions PES 2016 gave me, even after the very hyped-up reviews is… Very positive!

    I am very pleased with the game and can say that, in my opinion, Konami finally made a great football game!

    It feels like they struck a perfect balance between Arcade-y and Sim, finally improved Master League and presentation, made Squad & Tactical/Strategic Management actually important and fun to use.

    Sure, licenses are still lacking, commentary is horrible and there are still these weird design choices that make the game feel like a 2004-era PS2 game (it’s the “Japanese Touch”, what can I say).

    However, it seems like it’s a great improvement upon previous year’s game (which set a good foundation) and it seems that it is finally doing the series’ glory days (PES 3-6) justice.

    I haven’t tried FIFA 16 yet – I hopefully will – but there doesn’t seem to be anything special about it.

    Sure, there are *finally* some small (but welcome) additions to Career Mode, but they don’t ultimately change anything.

    As you said, the gameplay is maybe a bit more realistic, but at the same time, this is likely to change in patches (and, you know, the game’s flaws will start to show either way).

    Some are saying that FIFA 16 even has an issue in the form of all teams playing the same.

    Meanwhile, one of PES 2016’s highlight features – besides the game seemingly nailing the balance between pace & strength on one hand and fun and realistic shooting on the other – is the incredibly well-simulated tactical/strategic aspect of football, including how different each club and even each player plays.

    Oh and yeah: You won 7-0, 7-1 and 8-0 in your first 3 games in PES 2016?

    Yeah… You don’t have to play on the lowest difficulty, you know?

    • Laini says:

      commentary is horrible
      It’s not great but it has some nice touches, like “So and so on the ball, already with a goal to his name” or what have you.
      It’s weird how in FIFA they never mention who’s scored unless they take another shot at goal or score it, whereas it’s something that’s mentioned a lot in real commentary.

      Also 8-0? I’m playing on the second lowest and get my ass kicked all the time, too used to how FIFA plays.

      I can definitely see areas where PES 16 is better but I think I’m enjoying FIFA 16 more.

  10. jardim1 says:

    Fifa 16 is killin PES with no doubt! ok still few imperfections but the new gameplay is amazing! cant stop playing on my PC since 2 days! Fifa on top non stop.
    BTW, I got the full game on gamescav.com, totally free and works perfectly on my machine, have fun guys
    link to gamescav.com

    • Bugamn says:

      I don’t know if posting links to piracy sites is according to the rules of the site.